Urban Parks: Exchange Club Island

September 22, 2010 46 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Accessible only by boat, Exchange Club Island is a 34-acre uninhabited oasis of serenity in the heart of urban Jacksonville.

About Exchange Club Island

The Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund of the State of Florida dedicated Exchange Club Island, formerly known as Mud Island, to the Board of County Commissioners of Duval County on October 8, 1956 for use and development as a public park. Exchange Island, located within the St. Johns River, close to downtown Jacksonville, occupies approximately 34 acres of land. The island, which averages approximately 350 feet in width and 2,400 feet in length, is oriented with its long axis in a north-south direction, parallel to the reach of the St. Johns River, in which it is located. The island is currently undeveloped.

Exchange Club Island was dedicated for the benefit of Jacksonville boating enthusiasts.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detachment from Fort Benning, Ga., which was in the area for a training exercise, volunteered pontoon barges that transported several thousand people between the foot of Highlands Avenue to the island under the Mathews Bridge.

In the afternoon, the engineers further demonstrated their skill by constructing a 500-foot pontoon foot bridge that connected the island to the bank at the Arlington terminus of the bridge.

Pyrotechnics for the occasion were provided by a U.S. Navy battery, which blasted off a 21-gun salute about noon.

On the island, visitors inspected the small boat slips, picnic area and sanitary facilities which resulted from teamwork and joint financial contributions from the Exchange Club and the Board of Duval County Commissioners.

Among the officials exchanging congratulatory remarks were County Commissioner Julian Warren and Exchange Club President William H. Wood.

Members of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary spent most of the day patrolling the area around the island for safety purposes and to ferry visitors from various boat launching sites.

The occasion was particularly festive for the auxiliary because it marked the dedication of its new building, which would be the headquarters for rescue, first aid and training operations for the benefit of the county’s boating community.

Ray Chapman, commander of the auxiliary’s Flotilla 4, presented a plaque to Chuck Lightner, representing the Jim Walter Corp., which donated the aid station.

The island was formerly known as Mud Island. The Exchange Club credited one of its veteran members, Sam Millner, with visualizing the island as a boating center and helping push the idea through to completion. The island was formed from muck dredged from the St. Johns River during construction of the bridge.

Jacksonville may be one of the few major cities in the United States with an uninhabited refuge of greenspace in the heart of its urban core.

Exchange Club Island is located under the Matthews Bridge, where the Arlington River meets the St. Johns River.

Article and photographs by Ennis Davis